Denver’s 4/20 event gets a 3-year permit ban and $12,000 fine

A review ordered by Mayor Michael Hancock found violations related to trash management, public safety, security and more.
4 min. read
Miguel Lopez. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Denver Parks & Recreation announced Saturday afternoon that the organizer of the city's annual 4/20 rally has been fined more than $12,000 and banned from receiving an event permit for the next three years.

The penalties are being imposed after a "thorough review" ordered by Mayor Michael Hancock found violations related to trash management, public safety, security and more.

In an 11-page letter to Miguel Lopez, permit-holder for the 4/20 event, Parks & Recreation Executive Director Happy Haynes wrote:

"I appreciate you meeting with me yesterday to provide further information regarding the problems at the event, and your plans to correct those problems in future. However, there were numerous issues at the event. Generally, I find the most significant concerns involve the follow issues: noise, trash, security, health code violations, and other city department violations."

The fines issued total $11,965, and there is an additional $190 fine for damages.

The 4/20 event has also lost its priority event status, which is granted to longtime recurring events and gives them priority when permitting for the year ahead begins in November.

The permit ban applies to Lopez and does not stop someone else from applying to run a 4/20 event.

Lopez told Denverite he couldn't comment on whether someone else would apply for such a permit.

"We’re just going to have our day in court with them and appeal it," he said. 

"We repudiate everything they say, and we’re just going take it to court and appeal it. There was simply no harm done. We picked up the park, and there may have been security issues but, you know, people jump the fence at the White House, too. There was no harm done here.”

Mayor Hancock ordered a review of the event in response to the large amount of trash left behind in Civic Center Park and reports that people broke through the fence to get in without going through security screenings. There were also concerns about the behavior and language of attendees.

“Seeing our Civic Center in a state of disrepair was for many in our city — including myself — deeply disappointing and discouraging,” Hancock said at the time. “Our parks and public spaces are held in the public trust, and when organizers hold an event at one of these spaces, they have a responsibility to uphold that public trust. When organizers leave one of our parks trashed, they violate that trust.”

Lopez said a month ago that he wasn't expecting a fair hearing.

“Government and police typically fish for whatever justifies their ends,” he said. “They’ll come up with with what they need.”

In addition to finding that organizers did not effectively prepare for and manage the amount of trash produced during the 4/20 event or supply enough security staff, the letter says, the review found that 10 vendors were operating without a permit. It also found that seven vendors -- six of which were ones without a permit -- posed an imminent health hazard. That can mean food prepared at home, the lack of a hand-washing sink or an unapproved source of food, among other things.

The letter also lists noise complaints, primarily from people working inside the City and County Building who said the volume of the music made it extremely difficult to work.

The event was also found to be in violation of street closure permit requirements because barricades and vehicles were blocking sidewalks.

"We're a controversial event, and they don’t seem to like us and that’s just too bad," Lopez said. "They don’t realize that they’re hurting their very own people."

Cyndi Karvaski, spokeswoman for Denver Parks & Recreation, said the department does not consider the content of an event when it grants permits and reiterated that Lopez is being penalized because of violations of his permit.

"We can't discriminate on that," she said. "Anyone can receive a permit if they fulfill all the requirements of that permit."

This post has been updated throughout.

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